Shining new light into state records

Published March 19, 2007

Florida's attorney general long has served as a guardian of the laws that require government to conduct its business in public. The Government Accountability Project announced Tuesday by new Attorney General Bill McCollum, then, takes a logical next step. He aims to move disclosure from paper to computer. Let the government sun shine online.

The endeavor pairs McCollum with the University of Florida's Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, and the stated objective is to push cities and counties and state agencies to post as much information as possible online. Fortunately, that revolution already has started, as many county officers such as property appraisers and elections supervisors put their records into full view. The Legislature provides online thorough records of the bills it is considering.

Where McCollum can push the envelope is to persuade cities, counties and state agencies to air the nitty-gritty work that they sometimes would rather keep sealed in a distant filing cabinet. For example, the attorney general already has begun to post contracts for outside attorneys, department budget requests and links to audits. Why shouldn't any citizen be able to find similar information from city hall or the county courthouse?

McCollum's predecessor, Charlie Crist, has taken his own passion for open government to the governor's office. Crist even coaxed former assistant attorney general and public records expert Pat Gleason to direct the first Office of Open Government. McCollum promises no dropoff in the attention his office gives to public records, and his new project is a step in that direction.